Creating a Data-Positive Culture at Your Nonprofit Organization


When Jodi Benenson joined YNPN Boston at its first-ever Knowledge Manager, she found the all-volunteer organization in a position many organizations find themselves in: They knew that data was important, but they didn't know how to strategically collect & use it.

Jodi is now the Director of Research at YNPN Boston and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. She facilitated a Lunch & Learn Oct. 15 about Creating a Data-Positive Culture at Nonprofit Organizations. Here's what we learned:

Many organizations are so afraid of bad data that they are hesitant to collect it at all! This is why it's important to make cultural changes in your organization before you even begin to collect & use data.

Defining Data-positive Organizational Culture

A data-positive organization...

    1. Relies on data to make decisions & strategic organizational change
    2. Uses data in every facet of the organization
    3. Encourages & celebrates data collection & analysis for internal (institutional knowledge) & external use


Encouraging Data-Positivity at Your Organization

Jodi recommends that employees at any level can take these three steps to help create a data-positive culture at their organization:
1. Demonstrate the value of data on an individual level.Identify power players and have individual, tailored conversations with them to explain how data can help them do their job better. This will create the buy-in you need at multiple levels of your organization.

2. Tie data to the organization's mission.Sometimes, organizations get too ambitious in their data collection and lose focus. Whenever a team member suggests collecting or analyzing data, ask your team why you need the data and what you will do with it once you have it.For example, YNPN Boston launched an incredibly long member survey in 2011, but refocused it to ask only about young professionals' professional development needs to align with their mission in 2012. The result: happier survey participants & more useful data!

3. Disperse the data squad.Data is only useful to an organization if it is used in every facet of an organization. YNPN Boston's membership survey is only useful if the Events team uses the information to create programming that its members need, the Communications team creates infographics to share the information, and so on.Find your data-centric people both within and outside of your organization to help you stay motivated, current, and on-mission.

High-quality, strategic data collection can make an organization more effective at every level - from program design to grant applications to strategic planning. However, this only works when there is organizational buy-in. These three steps will help you create the data-positive culture you need!

Check out Jodi's presentation slides here!

Ready for more data? YNPN Boston recently conducted the 2014 Young Nonprofit Professionals survey and we are excited to share our findings! Keep an eye out over the next few months as we release our survey findings and resources!


By: Alyson Weiss, Young Professional Outreach Coordinator & Social Media Specialist, Career Moves - a division of JVS. Alyson is also a YNPN Boston ambassador on the Communications and Marketing team.

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